horse racing

The immense stories of a memorable Royal Ascot

From Godolphin’s amazing success to Big Orange getting the fruits of his labour

By Jacquie Doyle, Special to Gulf News
14:58 June 26, 2017
A general view of the Royal Ascot racecourse

Where to begin... so many immense stories after the best possible week’s racing; Godolphin’s huge outstanding Tuesday — unknown trainers — unsold horses — jet setting runners.

We have had the lot and, perhaps most unusually of all, we’ve even had that most rare of entities — sunshine, almost too much of it, not an all too common English complaint!

The opening day coincided with the 40th year Anniversary of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai’s very first winner, a filly named Hatta and it is almost spooky how well all his runners seemed to have read the script and performed their roles to perfection providing Godolphin with a treble.


First blood of the meeting in the prestigious Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes went to his Ribchester and retained Godolphin rider William Buick, the combination being firmly on top at the finish over the horse of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance, Mutakayyef.

And so Royal Ascot exploded into life like an erupting volcano pouring joy across the tumultuous crowds.

The Group 1 St James Palace provided another cause for a Royal Blue celebration as Barney Roy confirmed his top class status with James Doyle aboard.

Thunder Snow continued his tough campaign with a solid third place just a head behind Aidan O’Brien’s forward-ridden Lancaster Bomber.

Race favourite Churchill was in most minds a bit disappointing, though personally I feel jockey-ship was key here with Doyle getting first run on the winner having sat just off the front pace and allowing the long-striding Barney Roy to use himself comfortably.

It’s not often I would criticise Ryan Moore but when he got to Doyle’s heels he appeared insistent on trying to pass on the outside despite seeing Barney Roy drifting slightly that way - maybe he had no horse under him anyway but that move would definitely have disappointed the horse.

The day closed with yet another Godolphin winner, this time in the Windsor Castle Listed 2 year-old race over the minimum trip of five furlongs.

Charlie Appleby provided the first and second here with William Buick opting for Sound and Silence who duelled through the last furlong to pass his stable mate Roussel.

Shaikh Mohammad must have had an extra spring in his step as he left the course after winning two Group 1s and seeing two of his 2 year-olds fight it out to a finish.

His Highness savoured even more success on Day 3 with Derby 5th Benbatl appreciating a drop in trip and class to bag a confidence-giving win in the Group 3 Hampton Court.


All kudos to Saed Bin Suroor for his deft handling of this colt. The Dubai team were not finished yet and must have been delighted to see their Roger Charlton-trained Atty Perse improve again with a decisive win over First Nation who is also team Godolphin — Charlie Appleby trains. Another lovely pair for the future.

In his TV interview Shaikh Mohammad spoke of his love of the sport and that day 40 years ago in Brighton watching Hatta win: “From that day at Brighton we moved forward. In life there is no winning post, you have to keep going otherwise the rest will catch up with you”.

Wise words from the wisest of men.

Day 1 had seen us meet a new kid on the block in the shape of Richard Spencer, a young man who has only been training a short time and his score sheet now reads 9 winners, one of them the Coventry Stakes Group 2.

One man who has become a name synonymous with Ascot is the easy-going American Wesley Ward who has made a habit of forays to England in June each year and rarely returning home empty handed.

We expect him to come with big strapping horses that look like 4 year-olds masquerading as 2 year-olds.

Back at home, he has developed a programme of work for these youngsters that develops them in a diiferent way to their European counterparts — hence their impressive physics when they arrive in the UK.

Ward came with a team of ten and conquered with two of them, Lady Aurelia taking the Kings Stand with some ease and cleverly-named Con Te Partiro the Sandringham. Poignantly his name is Italian for “I Will Leave you”, his sire Scat Daddy died of a heart-attack walking from his paddock at only eleven years of age.

They say the good die young — Scat Daddy has bred no less than four winners at Ascot this week.

There was no doubt who was the absolute star of the show on Day 2, that accolade belonged to the Highland Reel, the globe trotting athlete of O’Brien who in the last twelve months alone has raced in no fewer than five countries. His performance at Epsom three weeks earlier was astounding, having spent ten hours in transit travelling from Ireland after plane fuelling issues, he arrived at the race track just 50 minutes before the start of the Coronation Cup - yet went out there and trounced them all to win like a true pro and much to everyone’s delight, he did it again here taking the Prince of Wales to add yet another Group 1 to his expanding CV.

Day 3 was Ladies and Gold Cup day, long considered the most glamorous of the week and it did not let us down with the Gold Cup producing the race of the meeting with the hero of the hour coming in the shape of the Big Orange, not a fruit but a horse, a pretty large one too.

If there was an award for the bravest horse at Ascot he would be the recipient. Much loved by all, the Bell [trainer] and Gredley [owner] families and by every jockey that has had the honour to ride him.

Many tears of joy were shed after he fought off runner up Order of St George and Ryan Moore.

It was Doyle who had the honour of partnering this most stellar of horses this time but while he was quick to praise everyone bar himself most “experts” were of the opinion that he had out ridden Moore — high praise indeed of which Doyle can be justifiably proud. 

Big Orange is the apple of his owner/breeder 84 years-young Bill Gredley’s eye but he must share his world travelled galloper with us all.

I find it ironic that breeding racehorses has become all about speed, yet it is the relentless long distance stayers that capture our hearts.

Talking of hearts being caught, renowned “breeze up” consigner Con Marnane, brother to regular Dubai Carnival trainer David Marnane, did his bit on Friday with his unabashed joy after his appropriately named Different League went from an 8,000 euro foal to an unwanted yearling to a Royal Ascot Winner, The Group 3 Albany for 2 year-olds and at 20/1 I expect the ebullient Marnane family may have indulged a little!

As people drift home at the end of the week, plans will have been hatched for next year’s trip, maybe to get involved in owning a horse or become part of a syndicate, at least two of which won races here this year — showing you don’t have to be a millionaire to be a Royal Ascot owner and see a dream come true.